Peter Volkofsky | Author & Life Coach

Peter Volkofsky is an author, spoken word poet and life coach. In 2017, Peter published his thriller Mia's Magic Wand. In 2015 he published Beautiful Quest as an Ark House imprint. Peter has been married to his wife Penelope for thirty-three years and together they have reared seven children.

Catalytic (cat•a•lyt•ic)

(adj.) a process that precipitates an event

The Vision

Individuals and teams reaching their goals.

PETE'S BLOG

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The Explorer’s Prayer (Communal Version)

‘Today we are on a quest in a beautiful and dreadful jungle called The Universe. Dreadful because, in order for the dignity of love to exist, you took the risk of allowing for hate. Having done that you brought us (and all our fellow humans) out of your very heart. But we fell under a curse and were enslaved until it’s power was broken on a ‘blood stained killing tree’1 by a mysterious lamb that had (paradoxically) been ‘slain from the foundation of the world’2. So it is that this curse no longer has any real power over us, but it does have that last resort of all bitter and defeated foes: mind games, which means we still live with the after-effects of a broken curse.

And then there is the burden of our normal human compassion, which is often appalled, and even furious that you should allow this horror in the first place. But we can’t say you didn’t warn us, and it would appear that—although you yourself have been wounded by it and have drawn the sting into your own body of flesh—the time has not yet come to forever rid the world of these nightmares that seem to roll like loose cannons on deck. So, rather than sit on the fence and wait, we have chosen to ‘bet our lives on one side in this great war’6 and to join with you in the spirit of the following words ...

‘Love’s as hard as nails, love is nails
Blunt, thick, hammered through the medial nerves of One Who having made us, knew the thing he had done. Seeing with all that is, our cross—and his.’7

This brings us to the second risk: where we allow what is true to become real in us by surrendering to you, the Great Spirit of Life. For truth un-lived might as well not exist, like a beam of light in space. But it becomes ‘real’ and vibrant, when for example, it surrenders to rain in the sky and colour floods the day, creating something new. So it is, that our obedience to you, rather than being negative and destructive, is a liberating act, which joins us together as co-creators.

We unleash this power now by surrendering to you—the one we are so proud of and absolutely adore—the Messiah of Calvary, knowing that even here we are on dangerous ground, for that word ‘surrender’ invokes grovelling slavery, which is not your way. So we stand in your presence, look to your face, and say with you that this is us going out into this day together. Us and you (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit), preparing this world for the great day of it’s resurrection and the return of its King by growing little gardens of goodness.

Love and truth is what we hope for in this twenty-four hour journey, especially as expressed in the right kind of restraint, which really listens carefully to those around us, asks good questions and understands those we are attempting to love and serve. We want to not only hear their words but to ‘hear’ their feelings and their non-verbal language.

You know our back stories, so we don’t need to go into details, but there have been words used— often gold-plated and untouchable, and sometimes cruel—over the years and months. Or was it yesterday? We ask that if we have unfinished business here that you would bring it to our attention and give us the grace to at least begin a conversation with whoever may have been responsible, or if not that, to at least harness the hurt to serve us and you through the habit of thanksgiving or even to drop it entirely. As Joseph said to his brothers, ‘You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.’3

On the other hand, perhaps we are the ones giving the grief and they have been trying to tell us something for a long time but we would not be told: just didn’t get it. Take us to a place where we can listen well, ask good questions, see their point of view and ask for forgiveness.

We include those who manage us in this too: our partners, our friends and work colleagues, our bosses or maybe even one of our children. Communication is a problem for us. We ask for protection from the recklessness of second-guessing; from not even noticing when we are to blame and have caused grief and misunderstanding. We need faithfulness, creativity and honesty in our words and we need resources, people and skills to build helpful communication processes.

When we are communicating, help us to know and observe ourselves and at the same time to be genuinely interested in those we speak with and to immerse our thoughts in theirs so that we can ask relevant questions and can feel and know your love for them. Show us how to love others in a way that translates as love in their language. Yes! You heard us say it. We do want to be ‘quick to hear and slow to speak’.4 And yes ... save us from the curse of an unbridled tongue disguised as transparency.

We ask for grace and patience to wait and to sense where you are in the situation and to cooperate with what you are doing. Be that a joke, a song, a hard scrabble fight or a sweet day of cafes and laughter. We also ask for awareness and understanding of the arts of ownership, participation and servanthood; the expectancy of faith; the focus of ambition and the joy of learning.

If we are to be managers and teachers today, we ask for skill to train and teach well so that we would develop a life-time habit of inviting participation rather than passive admiration, and that the ‘with-him’/’with-her’ principle would be a natural instinct, enabling deep ownership in those we lead and teach.

Transform us and fill us with your goodness, wisdom and grace in such a way that our demonstrating will be inspiring and arouse curiosity rather than yawns; that our supervising will be encouraging; and that the hearts of others will burn in that deep and strong way of those two friends on the Emmaus Road5 whose gloomy afternoon walk was catalysed by you: the surprising stranger. This will take much more than learning and training and systems, and this is where we confess we are lost, for it is an impossible mystery and requires that you make us into a sacrament. Amen.’

1 From ‘True to Real’, a poem by Peter Volkofsky

2 Revelation 13:8

3 Genesis 50:20

4 James 1:19

5Luke 24:13-33

6 Studdert Kennedy’s poem ‘Faith’
7CS Lewis’ poem, ‘Love’s as Warm as Tears’

 

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Canaries in the Coal Mine of the 21st Century

remembering

'We have all read in scientific books and indeed in all romances, the story of a man who has forgotten his name. This man walks about the streets and can see and appreciate everything; only he cannot remember who he is.
Well, every man is that man in the story. Every man has forgotten who he is. One may understand the cosmos but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God but thou shalt not know thyself. We are all under the same mental calamity; we have all forgotten our names. We have all forgotten what we really are.'*
There's something dark happening in a society where the ones Jesus said—most emphatically—are citizens of heaven, are screaming at us. Maybe these children who are behaving so dysfunctionally know something we don't? Perhaps they don't want to be well adjusted members of a dysfunctional society that's determined to bend our humanity out of shape.
Could it be true that we have forgotten what we are and the children are behaving so 'badly' because they still remember what we are and are violently opposed to our blind walking towards an abyss? Are they the canaries in the coal mine of the 21st Century?

'Yet You have said, “I know you by name.” (Exodus 33:12)

* From the reading for August 13 in A Year With GK Chesterton by Kevin Belmonte, editor

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The Joy of Learning

Joy

Curiosity is defined as 'a strong desire to know or learn something'. It also has something to do with feelings of being forgotten, or not noticed. Hence the kitten, stalking a mysterious noise in the garden, forgets itself as it becomes engrossed in the business of discovery. This little animal's adventure is a kind of enticement, which is about more than just finding out a fact, it's a learning experience, which includes feelings of discovery, of playfulness and of surprise.

The one who sets out to teach and already thinks they know what the metaphorical kitten is stalking in the garden, must respect the playful curiosity bubbling in that young mind, must learn to co-operate with a universe that is a teeming jungle of unknowns and must understand that their teaching relationship with a student may all hinge on a single moment where the 'teacher' demonstrates restraint and respect for this music of playful curiosity. That respect not just being about the art of teaching but about being a teacher who is still ready for a surprise—still learning—who remembers that this one they are instructing is not just a student, they are a dream (or possibly broken dream) that came from the heart of a mother and a father out there somewhere, and even from the very heart of God.

With this understanding in place, plus a little skill and experience, it's highly likely that the learning experience will be characterised by the curiosity, participation, commitment and ambition necessary to inspire real growth in the learner. The 'learner' normally being thought of as the student but it's just as likely to be the so called 'teacher' in any given moment—if only the teacher will allow it.

Curiosity + participation + commitment + ambition = a recipe for growth

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The Wild Man

wild man

Robert Bly says, 'The wild man is no groovy hippy ... It takes discipline, work, reading, delving deep into oneself, preparing an emotional body that can handle grief, ecstasy and spirit ... The wild man doesn't come to full life through being natural, going with the flow, smoking weed, reading nothing and being generally groovy. Ecstasy amounts to living within reach of the high voltage of the golden gifts. The ecstasy comes after thought, after discipline imposed on ourselves, after grief.'1

Robert Bly is one of America's poet laureates and not surprisingly much of his thinking was being done during the time of what has been called the Flower Power movement, his writing being a critique of that and even of what might be called the spirit of our age. He is regarded as a leader of the mythopoetic men's movement and if he had met the Apostle Paul would have found that they had much in common. It was St. Paul who said, 'Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us because God's love has been poured into our hearts...'2

But how can we expect our men to endure suffering when we don't offer them anything more than a sporting competition or a business competition to sacrifice themselves for? How can we criticise them for lacking passion and endurance when we sell them on a footy game at five years of age and fail to offer anything more at twenty five years of age?

By that stage the jury has come in for most and they've had a long hard look at the faces of those much older than themselves who have the feel of people walking a plank—a sometimes cheerful and pretty plank, but a plank nevertheless. Without even asking, they know that—according to secularism and unfortunately according to much of the religion on offer—there isn't actually anything worth sacrificing themselves for.

'Hope deferred makes the heart sick,' an old proverb says, and the demise of the secular vision has opened a door for ruthless preachers of ruthless faiths to fill the void, to convert young and empty hearts. Ironically, the custodians of our society are looking on and complaining about the evils of proselytising, of converting or attempting to convert '(someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another'.

But what if we have passed on beliefs and opinions to our children that are so weak and untested that we have set them up to be the next proselytes? When your children have been starved of a robust worldview, issuing laws against conversion or proselytising is about as effective as 'fiddling while Rome burns'.

Parents with obsessive fears create an appetite for the thing they're paranoid about. We live in a country that's awash with intimidation when it comes to questions of faith. Another suicide bomb goes off, another priest is convicted of molestation and we are afraid to even broach the subject.

But 'on the sly' millions of Aussies are searching for faith, hope and love. I meet these people all the time, people who are eager to talk, who want to have conversations about God, provided they are allowed to say what they think and not be ranted at and not be expected to go to some meeting or something. Having been left with a spiritual vacuum in our souls—we pig out on whatever we can get, including spiritual junk food. The fact is if you starve a country spiritually, they will eat whatever they can get.

And we are starving them by the way. I went to an exhibit in a gallery recently where the artist had attempted to co-opt medieval spiritual imagery into a present day settings. It was embarrassing. The thing was devoid of spiritual mystique, as if someone with a fast food mentality thought they could manufacture spirituality. Even our artists have been affected. 'Emperor's New Clothes Syndrome' is rampant and this kind of art work is impotent in the face of what old authors described as the 'mysterium tremendum et fascinans', the dreadful and captivating mystery of the divine.

Faced with this dilemma we have a good case for up-skilling our Aussie kids in the arts of counter-proselytising3. Personally, I don't like the words 'convert' or 'proselytise', they bring pride to the table and instead of arguing for truth, we are arguing for a win. Our society is over 'spiritual spam', so words like conversation and reflection and discussion are more appropriate, but if our men are to be men, they will need to have some balls (along with grace) in the way they go about this counter-proselytising. And they will need a worldview they are proud of, that stands the test of the pit bull terriers of the laboratory of life for God's sake.

And where will those balls come from? For one thing there needs to be a deep understanding, appreciation and healthy respect for the sometimes insidious and dark influence of spiritual forces. If that isn't the case, the anaemic manhood of the secular vision will keep fathering spiritually ravenous offspring who will simply serve the purposes of whichever charlatan sets up shop to offer their spiritual junk food. And while ever we keep pushing that greatest-ever vision of winning some sporting medal or some trophy, we will a keep a segment of our society occupied for a while, but we will totally lose the others.

I don't mind watching intense sporting matches by the way, but seriously, we all know this world is much bigger, greater and better than that. Or do we? For the sake of Aussie pride, would we rather pretend we are not creating a spiritual slaughterhouse, let our kids go spiritually hungry and eagerly get themselves converted to spiritual junk food?

So it's back to our question, 'How can we expect our young men to endure suffering that takes them along the road of hope when all we expect them to suffer for is a trophy manufactured in a shop?' We leave our men incompetent in the arts of thinking and debating, living and forgiving, and enjoying symbols, rituals and the community life of faith—and yes, even the arts of proselytising and conversion, at our peril.

Sometimes I wish I could say that I had been converted to the Christian faith but I was one of those who can't ever remember not believing. But if I had been converted to follow Jesus of Nazareth rather than brought up to follow him, why would that have been a crime? There's many out there hoping someone will offer them something far more spiritual and deep than winning a trophy. If only someone had proselytised Adolf Hitler to a faith of grace and tolerance and mercy.

1  Bly R. Iron John

2  St. Paul Letter to the Romans 5:3-5

3  convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another

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Conversations With Children

Conversations With Children

Parents must be careful about the way they handle the instinct to shelter their children from criticism, from—in your face, no way of denying it—failure, and from being confronted by the successes of siblings. Yes it's cruel and cheap to cultivate a brutal culture of vying for the parent's approval or to force them into competitions for your love, but a certain amount of natural, robust competition is healthy and honest and will prepare them for a world that's not fair.

If nothing else, the refusal to accommodate yourself to their young egos helps them to have a sane estimate of themselves and their abilities and—like the 'wounds of the faithful friend' in the book of Proverbs—steps on the proud egg-shells of what might be called egalitarian jealousy. A jealousy that's incubated by our obsession with making everyone feel happy. An ailment by the way that CS Lewis nailed when he said that the person who says, 'I'm as good as you,' wouldn't say it if it was true.

The dictum 'all men are equal' is a useful (and important) fiction for hospitals, parliaments and the courtrooms but how can it be true in that deeper sense when genetics, environment and the accidents of culture all conspire to deal very different hands of cards to every single child on the planet? To assume such equality is, in fact, cruel and does not allow for extra time and assistance, or the special consideration for example, that a visually-impaired child might require.

To attempt to manage these challenges and complications of love by dumbing everything down and doling out indulgent, scripted love-speak evenly to every child is just plain uncreative and a frontal assault on trust and respect. A bit like making them play a game of 'emperor's new clothes'. Except that the emperor (the child) never asked to be a part of the deal.

On the one hand we fail awfully (even as adults) when we act as if conversation is about saying exactly what you mean and meaning exactly what you say—leave that for the courtroom. We are humans and to try to make ordinary conversation around the home a vehicle of some exact science will only make matters worse. For all of us—children or adults—most of the time the game of conversation must have some sideways element to it because of the inadequacy of language to carry all the nuances of love and joy, hope and faith.

I dare you to try an experiment in conversation by going with the the full frontal approach for a day. You won't even make an hour most likely. Before long you will feel like your home and dinner table have become school/work discussions or something. The fact is that most of our communication comes via symbols, rituals and stories, not via Q&A and 'important pronouncements'. If you don't have such symbols and rituals make sure you pour your heart and soul into creating some that allow joy, hope and grace to permeate your home. I mean, who ever communicated to another that they were a joy to them simply by telling them? Using words for such a communique might well be one of the biggest mistakes you will ever make.

So, if we don't incorporate symbol, ritual, story and way of life into this process of bringing loving affirmation to our children, we are forced to attempt to cram it all into the cerebral realm of spoken words. Thus the epic problem our secular friends have created for themselves. Witness artworks in regional galleries by secular artists who imagine they can simply manufacture spiritual art for God's sake! You can get away with it for a while with children but sooner or later it comes back with a bite via lampoonery and jokes.

Children are not fools. If you refuse to look to non-verbal means as the major arterials of joy, your children will eventually feel that something screwy is going on 1. Because your 'correct speak' will have a banal* smell about it 2. Because genuine love is always ingenious at not doing that sort of thing. 3. Because (if you are a person of faith) it will have an unctuous** feel to it. So beware the child who has caught you out on all three counts and knows now that that mum and dad are not being on-the-level with them.

Not that cerebral-speak is all bad. For example, one of the greatest compliments a parent can pay their child (at the right ages, stages and moments) is to be graciously transparent with them about their weaknesses and thereby assist them to manage these vulnerabilities and perhaps even grow through them and overcome them. Failing that, they will at least have a sane and honest estimate of themselves.

In the end, if the child never receives any painful feedback from a parent, they have no alternative than to conclude that this is a dishonest relationship and respect becomes a casualty. On the other hand, if you grasp the process nettle, you as a parent will probably realise that some of your old wounds are in the mix too.

That leaves you with the challenge of how this can be best communicated. Assuming that the symbols, rituals, stories and way of life are happening. Such things can also be processed via a long, slow, intermittent conversation that might last two weeks or ten years. Yes, you are approaching volcanic territory and you will need all your wits about you, but this is not a time for denial or procrastination. Both of you are heading into uncharted territory so try to begin like an explorer meeting another explorer (your child) and go from there. And don't forget to invite the Paraclete (Holy Spirit) to join you both on the journey.

* so lacking in originality as to be obvious and boring 

** excessively flattering or ingratiating; oily